"Simply take a dollar bill and gently pull it under the reed," Haydel says.
"This will usually clean the call of food particles well enough to allow you to continue using the call. When you get home, use dental floss to get in there and clean it out more thoroughly." And if you want your call to really sound good, use a $100 bill while cleaning it.
"People don't think about all the particles that can get caught in a duck call," Harlan says. "If you are in the blind eating, or drinking coffee or soft drinks, those things can all leave a buildup on the call's reed. And that can alter the sound of the call or make it stick and cause it to lock up."
The primary culprits may be sugar-based foods or drinks. These products can be sticky to begin with. Mix them with healthy doses of saliva and you've got the equivalent of syrup, or paste, coating the reeds and other components of your call. It does not take much of a buildup to cause the reeds to stick, which negatively impacts the sound.
"After you rinse your call, take a piece of dental floss and insert it from the front end and pull it all the way back, between and under the reeds," says game call maker Eli Haydel of Bossier City, Louisiana. "If you hunt a lot, clean your call regularly during the course of the season."
If call cleanliness is mandatory, attention also should be paid to the condition of your call's reed or reeds-depending on what type of call you use, single- or double-reed.
"One of the biggest problems people have with duck calls is that they open it up to see how it's made, and then they take the tip of the reed with their finger-pulling the reed straight up, sometimes to where it lies on the top of the stopper-and snap it real hard," Harlan says.
"The distance between the reed and the tone board has everything to do with the sound of the call. I have seen calls go out of my shop sounding perfect. Then, about a week later, folks will come back and say, 'You know, Mr. Harlan, this doesn't sound right.' I'll take the call apart and pull the reed out, lay it down, and it looks like the reed is craning its neck upwards. It has been bent. You have to treat that reed with the utmost care. You don't want to pull it up and pop it; you want to retain the stability of that reed as much as you can."
Any number of materials have been used as reeds over the years. These include German silver, brass, copper, phosphorous, bronze, tin, wood, cane, and now, perhaps most prevalent, plastics. Mylar is by far the most popular substance used today. Equal to the variety of materials employed were the physical alterations undertaken while attempting to create the perfect sound. Reeds have been pounded, scraped, bent, sanded, trimmed, heated, and filed.
This experimentation has resulted in an understanding of what these manipulations can produce, and personal preferences in regard to what works best. These days, however, such exercises usually are not necessary. All calls mass-produced by a manufacturer may not sound exactly alike, but they should be close.